THE EASTERN STAR & ESTHER
It certainly is a privilege this morning to be joined by the women from the Eastern Star. My father was a Mason which means that I learned at least a little bit about the Eastern Star as I was growing up. And, of course, as I was training for ministry, the women of the Eastern Star helped by providing annual funding to seminary students. I was pleased to learn just this year that that particular ministry has continued because thirty years later, our son Andrew is also benefitting from this generousity.
What I didn’t know is that there are at least five biblical women to whom the Eastern Star looks for inspiration and guidance. But when Rosemary and I met a few weeks ago to begin planning for today, she was good enough to fill me in.
“Would it be appropriate for me to use one of their stories as the basis for my sermon on that Sunday?” I asked her.
“Sure,” she said. So I quickly choose the story of Esther. I’ve always appreciated the story of Esther. I’ve also always thought that she was somewhat under-rated as a biblical character. Chance are that if I asked you to tell me something about Esther, many of you would draw a blank. Some of you might even be surprised that the Bible has an entire book that is dedicated to telling her story. So let’s fix that today and talk about Esther.
First of all, let me give you some background. The story of Esther happened after the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 597 B.C. At the time the Jewish people were taken into captivity by the Babylonians in what has come to be known as the Exile. King Xerxes was the king over all the land and found himself in need of a new queen. That would have been a more difficult task then you might think. He could not just go onto eHarmony.com or Christian Mingle. But what he could do was have a competition. So that’s what happened. His emissaries went throughout the empire and found the most beautiful women they could. These women were taken back to the capital city and prepared to meet the king. One of those women was Esther and Esther won the king’s favour and was eventually chosen to be his new queen.
What the king did not know about Esther is that she was Jewish. Enter Haman who had no great love for the Jews. In fact, he quite despised them. Haman despised the Jews so much that he hatched a plan to have all of them killed for disobeying a royal decree. Haman even agreed to pay the king’s treasury a large sum of money to ensure that the royal decree as carried out. That’s how much he hated the Jews. King Xerxes agreed that on a certain day all of the Jews in the empire in every province, city and town would be killed. And there was great mourning amongst the Jews of the land because they saw that their end was near. But remember that there was something that the king did not know. He did not know that his bride Queen Esther was herself Jewish.
That brings us to chapter 4 that we just read. Enter Mordecai, Esther’s older cousin. He had basically raised her after her parents had died. He realizes that there is only one hope for the Jewish people and that is Queen Esther because she has the king’s ear. If anyone is going to change the king’s mind about killing the Jews, it would be Esther the queen. But would she be up to the task? That’s what we have to find out.
Mordecai shows up at the palace, at the king’s gate, to see if he can get a message to Esther. But before he shows up, I want to note what he did. In Esther 4:1 it says, “… [Mordecai] tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.” Why would he do that? There are two reasons really. The first one is because he wanted to show his humility and deep sense of repentance. Back in those days, there was a sense that often, when bad things happened, they were the result of some sin that the people had committed. So Mordecai dressed up in sackcloth and covered himself with ashes as a sign that he was sorry for anything he might have done to offend either the king or to God even if he had no idea what that might be. He’s just covering his bases.
But there was another more important reason for doing this. It was to rattle Esther’s cage. Her cousin Mordecai was very dear to her. Remember that he had basically raised her from a little girl. He was her father figure and to think that he was outside the palace dressed up in sackcloth and ashes would have been very disconcerting to her.
And so when she finds out about this, what does she do? We read about that in Esther 4:4 (NIV) where it says, “When Esther’s maids and eunuchs came and told her about Mordecai, she was greatly distressed. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them.” So mission accomplished. Clearly Mordecai has successful rattled Esther’s cage. There she is living in the king’s palace surrounded by every luxury that is available in that time and culture. Everything she needs is provided. Every little whim is met instantly. If something isn’t readily available, there are people at her disposal who can make it happen. Esther wants for nothing. What a stark contract to think that her beloved cousin Mordecai is just outside the palace gate dressed in sackcloth and ashes, moaning and wailing in his distress. Does that rattle her cage? You bet it does.
But the really interesting thing is this; she doesn’t even know why this is all happening. Esther knows nothing of the annihilation order of her husband. She is blissfully unaware of the royal decree issued against the Jews. She’s sequestered in the palace isolated from the mundane daily activities of the kingdom. She’s completely in the dark. Until Mordecai draws it to her attention, she is totally unaware of any of this.
Living here in Cottam can be a pretty sheltered existence. Most of us have it pretty good. Most of us have everything that we need. We live in houses, drive our cars, get lots of food to eat at the grocery store, talk and text on our cell phones. Sure all of us have problems but for the most part we are pretty comfortable. And because of that, we are not always aware of the issues that people face around us. There are all kinds of people who look good on the outside. They may look like they’re doing just fine. They have a job. They have a nice home and reliable car. Their marriages seems to be in good shape. But who knows what the real situation is? Sometimes things really are as they seem but sometimes behind the scenes there is a mountain of debt and uncertain employment. Maybe that good marriage is not so good as it appears to be and maybe that responsible neighbour is dealing with addictions or worse. You may not know what goes on behind the facade that people like to show us. There are a dozens of problems that exist in our towns, in our neighbourhoods and sometimes even in our own families that we have no idea of until something or someone draws them to our attention. That was Esther’s situation. Let’s find out how she responds.
Remember that Esther is blissfully unaware of what is literally going on around her. But that is about to change. She sends out her servant Hathach to talk with Mordecai. This is how the Bible describes that encounter in Esther 4:7-8 (NIV): “Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to urge her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.”
This is the wake up call for Esther. It says in verse 9 that Hathach went back and told Esther everything that Mordecai had said. And now Esther is no longer unaware. She knows what’s going on. She knows the danger that her people face and if the king finds out that she herself is a Jew, the royal edict would well apply to her as well. But does she have the courage that it takes to do what Mordecai is asking of her? That’s the question.
Her initial reply does not seem too promising. In Esther 4:11 (NIV) she sends this message to Mordecai: “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter to him and spare his life.” What Esther is saying to Mordecai is actually quite simple. “Sure I’d love to go and intervene on your behalf but, if I go, it may cost me something. In fact, it may cost me my life. And I’m just not sure that I’m ready for that yet.”
This is Esther’s dilemma. Now she knows why Mordecai is outside the palace dressed in sackcloth and ashes. Now she knows about the royal decree to slaughter her people. Now she knows what Mordecai is asking her to do. And she probably even knows what she should do because as far as she knows there is no one else better placed to save her people. But she’s not sure she can do it. She’s not sure that she has the courage to put everything on the line to do what she knows she is called to do. “Yes, I’d love to help you out Mordecai but I’m not sure that I’m prepared to pay the price,” and so she hesitates.
That’s not an unusual response. Sometimes the things that God asks us to do are fairly safe. Being on a committee at church is pretty safe. Reading the Bible during worship is pretty safe. Helping out at the Essex Food Bank or Downtown Mission or Gleaners is pretty safe. It takes some time and some effort but you’re probably going to leave the place feeling good about what you have done. But that’s not always the case. What if God calls you to go against the grain of society? What if he calls you to take an unpopular stand? What if he calls you to sacrifice some of your privilege so that others may benefit? Those decisions aren’t so easy. In those times, like Esther, we have sometimes hesitate.
Mordecai, in response to Esther’s concerns sends her one more message. We find it in Esther 4:12-14 (NIV) where he says, “Do not think that because you in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
This is like Mordecai’s version of a triple barreled shot gun and he has must pointed it right at Esther’s heart. With this challenge, he is saying three things. First, he reminds Esther that she herself is Jewish and even if the king doesn’t know it, someone in the palace no doubt does and eventually the news will reach the ears of the king. Mordecai is reminding Esther that just because she is in a privileged position, that does not mean that she is exempted from the royal decree to slaughter the Jews. Once the king finds out – and he will – she will be in just as much danger as all of the other Jews.
The second thing is even more important. Basically, Mordecai tells Esther that if she doesn’t help out her fellow Jews, if she wants to turn a blind eye to everything that’s going on that she can do that because if she doesn’t want to step up then God will find someone else who will.
It is critical to understand this. God is sovereign. God’s will will be done whether or not we want to be a part of it. Every single one of us has a choice. We can follow God’s will or we can turn away and follow something else. But if you turn away, just be clear that God will raise up someone else to fill the shoes the you vacated. Esther has to make a choice. Will she hide away in the palace and hope to be missed or will she be part of something spectacular and life changing? That is her choice.
Mordecai told her that she would not escape. He told her that if she didn’t want to step up, then God would find someone who would. The third thing that Mordecai points out is in the very last sentence where he says: “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” Who knows Esther, maybe this is the very reason why God has you in the palace. Maybe your whole life has been plotted out just to lead you to this time and place to do God’s work? Wow. Imagine hoisting that upon Esther, the idea that everything in her life has been part of God’s plan just to bring her to this place at this time for this reason. Who knows but that this may be the very reason why God put you on this earth.
As I said before, God’s will is sovereign and to understand that is to understand that God knows what going to happen. The past and the present and the future are all one to God. And because he knows what’s going to happen, he equips us, his saints, to do his work. He directs us. He prepares us. And he puts us in just the right place at just the right time in order to fulfill his will. What that affirms for us is that all of us are here for a reason. You are not an accident. No one is an accident. Each and every one of us is here on purpose for a purpose. The challenge for us is to respond in a positive way when we finally come face to face with the reason why we are here.
Who knows how long Esther reflected on Mordecai’s words? Who knows what internal angst she suffered as she juggled the choices and repercussions in her mind? Who knows how many prayers went up to God asking for guidance and strength and peace. But in the end, she made a choice and she made known that choice to Mordecai in yet another message. Esther 4:15-16 (NIV) says, “Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai, ‘Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat of drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against law. And if I perish, I perish.’”
It seems that Esther made an about face. Remember that at first, she was unaware of what was going on. And when she found out what was going on, she was hesitant to help. But then, after considering everything that Mordacai had said to her, she found the courage to do that which she knew all along she was supposed to do. She agree to go the king and plead for her people not knowing if the king would extend to her the golden scepter or not. So, she may not have got it right the first time but she got it right in time.
That took courage. But stepping into the unknown when you don’t know what the cost might be will always take courage. In this life, we don’t know where God will lead us. We don’t know that paths that he will ask us to follow. All we do know is that he will never ever ask us to do anything for which he has not already equipped us. For as Mordecai reminded Esther, perhaps it for the very purpose of saving the Jews that she was placed by God in the royal palace at that time. God’s will is sovereign and God’s will will be done. Our only choice is whether or not we want to be a part of it.
I’m not going to read the rest of the story but I will tell you that it ends on a happy note as long as you’re not Haman whose plans to annihilate the Jews was his ultimate downfall. But I will tell you that Esther went to the king and he extended to her the golden scepter. The king was most pleased to see her and through some fancy footwork and strategic manipulation her request was granted. The Jews were saved and their enemies defeated. Many of them, in fact, were still around when the Jewish people were allowed to return to Jerusalem to rebuild that great city.
Esther found courage and saved her people. Most of us will never be put in that position. Most of us will never be called by God to save a nation. But it’s quite likely that God will use you to save an individual. I don’t know who that might be. It could be a co-worker. It could be a family member. It could be a sales clerk at the store or and teller at the bank. But be open to those situations where God puts you in just the right place at just the right time to share the Gospel of Christ with someone who needs and wants to hear. You might be the only person who can reach that soul. So don’t turn away. Have courage and introduce them to Jesus.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
We come to you, O God, in the full assurance of your presence with us. You have said that where two or three gather together in your name, you are in their midst. We thank you that you are faithful even now to hold us in your love. Your compassion is endless. Your mercy extends to the bounds of eternity. How awesome you are in tenderness and power.
There is so much for which we can be thankful. We offer our thanks for the power of the Cross and the reconciliation that you provide in Jesus Christ. We pray for those who need to experience the power of the resurrection. Many people still do not know Jesus as their Saviour. Many still live under the illusion that they can discover their salvation through careers, education, relationships or the things of this world. In fact, all women and men need to turn their lives over to Christ so that they can be set free from the burdens that bind them.
We lift up those who are sick at home or in hospital. Lift them up, O God of Love, above their confines of their conditions so that they may life to the fullest as each new moment arrives.
Heavenly Father, we pray for those who are caught in a never ending stream of violence and suffering. Our hearts cry out for the people of Syria and South Korea. We know that violence only hampers the process of peace. We ask for peace and justice for every region of your creation. We also pray your blessing upon Canadian military personnel wherever they are serving at home or abroad. Thank you for their service.
Help us every day to live the resurrected life of Christ that others may
see the difference that it makes. Open doors of faith through which we can
walk. Open hearts for Christ that all may come to saving faith and be made
right with God. These prayers are lifted in Jesus’ name. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
April 23, 2017 / Easter 2
Acts 2:14a, 36-41; Psalm 116:1-4, 12-19; 1 Peter 1:17-23; Luke 24:13-35
CALL TO WORSHIP
We love you God because you hear our prayers.
We love you God because you see us as we are.
We love you God because you touch our souls
and save us by your grace and compassion.
PRAYER OF APPROACH
Holy and Merciful God, the flowers of spring poke their brave heads above the frozen ground reminding us of the hope that we have in you. When all seems bleak, you are there. When all seems cold, you give us warmth. When all seems dark and forbidding, you shine your light upon us. How wonderful are your paths, how magnificent your visions, how awesome you handiwork. Inspire us, anew, in our time of worship. Enliven our hearts to live in your way, the way of Jesus. Amen.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
We come proclaiming that Jesus is risen but we sometimes live as if his body were still in the tomb. Darkness creeps into our souls and blinds us to your way. Forgive us when we forget to walk the road of the cross. Forgive us when we struggle to believe and are filled with doubt. Thank you God that, even in the midst of our fear, you are there with compassion and hope. Hear our confessions and heal our wounds.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
The early Christians walked the road with our Risen Lord. They touched him and spoke to him. They shared the things of life and of eternity. Though we do not see him, we know him. Though we can not touch his wounds, we are able to come before him as whole and forgiven people by the blood of the cross and the power of the resurrection.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
Jesus walks with us along the way of life. He gives us bread and drink, hope and healing. We offer in return our lives represented by what we have gathered in these brass plates. Fill us with, O God, with your inexplicable love that all of our lives may be dedicated to your holy service. Amen.
The blessings of the Father of Glory be with you.
The blessings of the Son of Light be with you.
The blessings of the Spirit of Life be with you.